We cross the Erskine Bridge, skirting for the time being the metropolis of Glasgow and continue onward through the large conurbation that is Renfrewshire and head south on the M77 for Ayrshire.
Prior to Local Government boundary re-organisation, Ayrshire was a maritime county some 78 miles long and "resembled a waxing moon" as the Third Statistical account rather charmingly put it in 1951. Industries such as mining and heavy engineering have been replaced by tourism, hardly surprising as this is well and truly "Burns country". The poet was born in Alloway, a suburb now of the town of Ayr, and lived for a while in Irvine (the Irvine Burns Club claiming to be the oldest in the world with an unbroken record of Burns' night observations since 1827) as well as the village of Mauchline. It is in Mauchline, some eight miles south east of Kilmarnock, that the "ploughman poet" penned many of his most famous odes. It was during his nine year tenancy of Mossgiel Farm that the "wee sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie" was turned up during the ploughing of a field. Burns set up home in Castle Street with Mauchline-born Jean Armour.
Additionally Mauchline is renowned for the manufacture of curling stones. The raw material for these stones was formerly quarried for on the Ailsa Craig, a rock which lies some 10 miles out to sea in the Clyde estuary. Curling itself has its origins shrouded in the mists of history but it is generally regarded as being nurtured in Scotland. John Cairnie of the Ayrshire town of Largs was most likely curling's greatest innovator during his tenure as inaugural president of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. Curling is now a major international sport.
Still with sport and this time golf, just a little further down the Ayrshire coastline lie two of Scotland's Open Championship venues ie Troon and Turnberry although it was at Prestwick, another Ayrshire course, that the Open Championship was first played, in 1860.
Just a little further down the coast from Ayr itself is Culzean Castle, rebuilt by Robert Adam over 15 years from 1777 to 1792. Culzean has a Guest Suite, not normally open to the public, where General Eisenhower spent many visits, including once while President of the USA.
We'll go back up the A77 and head east now but had we continued on further south we would have gone into Dumfries and Galloway region visiting perhaps Langholm, birthplace of Scotland's greatest 20th century poet, Hugh Macdiarmid, the Ettrick Shepherd, and Gretna, where English couples used to elope to be married by the blacksmith, following a tightening of the marriage laws in their country as far back as 1754. Couples continue to be married at the "Blacksmith's Shop" to this day, although for romantic reasons only.
As we move out of Ayrshire toward Lanarkshire we pass through Darvel, birthplace of Sir Alexander Fleming and home to the Loudoun Gowf Club, the only club known to have that Scots spelling of the word on their Signage.
Lanarkshire is another conurbation consisting of some fairly large towns, Hamilton, Motherwell, Wishaw, Coatbridge, Airdrie and the new town of East Kilbride and smaller towns or villages with their traditions steeped in mining. Blantyre, also the birthplace of explorer Dr David Livingstone was scene of the worst ever Scottish mining disaster in 1877 when an underground explosion resulted in the loss of 207 lives. Motherwell was for many years synonymous with the giant iron and steel works at Ravenscraig and Dalziel. These plants are now no more but the area has striven to assume a new identity and Strathclyde Country Park between Motherwell and Hamilton is a 200 acre green site consisting of such attractions as an artificial loch and fairground.
It is not the remit of this page to address such emotive subjects as politics or religion but it may be worth pointing out that the founder of the Labour Party, Keir Hardie, was born in Holytown (pronounced Hollyton), a small village between Motherwell and Airdrie. A leading light in the Temperance movement, founded in this country incidentally by James Dunlop a Greenock lawyer and philanthropist and ably assisted by William Collins of the now world famous publishing house, he campaigned vigorously for workers' rights. As organising secretary of the local miners he sought common ground with other miners' leaders and set up an embryonic county organisation for Lanarkshire. After standing in the 1888 Mid Lanark by-election he founded the Labour Party in the same year.
New Lanark is a heritage town which was purchased by Glasgow entrepreneur David Dale in 1783 (yes, entrepreneurs were around even then) who created there the largest cotton mills in Scotland. By 1793, out of the 1200 people employed there, 800 of them were children, probably drawn in the main from nearby orphanages. Dale however was a non-conformist social reformer who ensured that his workforce was well housed in a closely knit community and the orphans were well fed and clothed and, most unusually for the time, well educated.
Dale sold New Lanark at the turn of the 19th century to his son-in-law, Robert Owen, a man with even more progressive ideas for reform. He encouraged the pursuit of the lifelong learning in 1800, an ethos that has been resurrected or developed (depending on who you listen to) today. Essentially he abolished the system of punishment and reward for the acquisition of knowledge or learning for pleasure.
The community remained close knit until 1967 when the industry of the day, namely rope manufacture, closed without possibility of another buyer. A group of various conservation bodies intervened and rather than demolish the site it was gradually restored and re-opened as a living heritage site where it remains today as one of the country's most popular and unusual tourist attractions.
We pull away, for the moment, from Lanarkshire and cross over the M8 motorway which links Edinburgh and Glasgow and has some of the most up to date high tech industries in the country. We will return to that route for the final leg of the journey.
Journeying through West Lothian and into Central Region we pass through an area that has become celebrated or notorious for the number of UFO sightings in recent times. Local hoteliers even run weekend UFO breaks for the many enthusiasts who come into the area, an idea no doubt inspired by their fellow innkeepers on the shores Loch Ness who cater for spotters of the "monster".
Oddly enough, the area has also laid claim to having a disproportionately large number of National Lottery winners.
Is there a connection? I hear you ask.
Central region includes towns like Stirling, (complete with castle and its long association with Scottish patriots William Wallace and Robert the Bruce ) and Falkirk, known famously for its giant Carron Iron works and also for having been the site of the battle, in 1298, on which the film Braveheart was loosely based. Grangemouth, by the Forth estuary, is the North Sea's major oil refinery, its skyline at night candescent with cracker plant burners.
Now we travel on the A80, past the third of Scotland's new towns, Cumbernauld, built in 1956 to house some of the overspill from Glasgow and finally to Glasgow itself.
Glasgow (Gaelic for "dear green place") is the 1999 City of Archtechture. Established, in terms of Christianity at any rate, in 600AD by Mungo (now the patron Saint of Glasgow) Glasgow began to assume more civic ambitions in 1451, through the founding of its University at Blackfriars (later moved to Rottenrow to be nearer the cathedral) and through the granting in 1491, of a Charter allowing it market town status. Its success in this respect assured its continued expansion.
In the 16th and 17th centuries following bloody religious wars Glasgow began to re-invent itself as a merchant city finding fame first through trade in sugar and tobacco and later in 18th century through cotton, iron and coal. However, it was shipbuilding in the mid-ninetenth century that best reflected Glasgow or Clydeside's industrial might, eventually breaking all production records at the end of WW1. Such famous luxury liners as Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeths I &II having been having been built there. Following this war and in the inevitable recession that followed emerged "Red Clydeside" a political ideology epitomised by people like John Maclean whom Hugh Macdiarmid referred to as "the greatest leader the working class in Scotland have yet had" in 1923.
Social conditions rapidly deteriorated and the times were incomparably written about by Alec Macarthur in his novel, No Mean City, now with over a million copies sold worldwide, which characterised Glasgow with the negative attributes of "..drink, poverty, moral corruption and brutality" It reinforced the popular perception of the city as an urban jungle terrorised by razor-slashing thugs and violent and sectarian drunks. Incidentally, Macarthur died destitute on the banks of the Clyde having drunk a lethal dose of disinfectant.
Glasgow of course is also famous, and rightly so, architecturally, boasting many imposing edifices and structures such as Blythswood and George Squares, the 1870 Gilbert Scott designed neo Gothic University, the William Adam (father of Robert and James) designed Pollock House and, in more recent times, the Central Mosque and Islamic Centre at Gorbals Cross.
The Central Mosque is a classic example of how a practical modern building, built in 1984 to serve the needs of 30,000 Muslims in the Glasgow and Strathclyde area, can be designed, using a combination of modern and traditional Islamic lines, to make it an important addition to a city where architectural design and beauty have always been a pride. If you would like to see more of the Mosque, please click on the photo to visit a slide show site (Flash 6 Reader required but available from the site).
Culturally, Glasgow is home to many fine museums, libraries, theatres and art galleries.
Pollock House along with the magnificent Pollock Country Park within whose grounds it is situated was gifted to the city by the Maxwell family in 1966. The Maxwells of Pollock were a leading Glasgow family in the spheres of art and learning and it is here Sir William Burrell's famous collection of some 8000 exhibits from all over the world is on display. Interestingly, Pollock House was the venue in 1931 for the conception of the National Trust for Scotland by among others, Sir John Stirling-Maxwell.
Other less established, but none the less interesting, facts about the City are the Horse Shoe Bar in Drury Street which is in the Guinness Book of Records as having the longest bar in the world; the Red Road Flats in Balornock which are the tallest in Western Europe and Paddy's Market in the Gallowgate, originally containing the stalls of colourful second hand clothes dealers but now reduced to a flea market for the near destitute.
Glasgow is also noted for its fanaticism with regard to football. Its two major teams Celtic and Rangers "Auld Firm" playing to packed stands of 60,000 every week. Celtic played in the European Cup Final in 1967 against Inter-Milan; their legendary manager Jock Stein leading out a team ostensibly from the back streets of Glasgow and insisting on their singing, in unison, the "Celtic song" in the dual hope of motivating this own players while intimidating the opposition. This was illustrative of the "Braveheart" spirit 30 years before that film was made. The ploy worked and Celtic won 2-1 having been a goal behind.
A few years later Rangers had similar success in Spain winning the European Cup Winners Cup against Moscow Dynamo in Barcelona.
Ironically, very few British players let alone Glasgow ones are actually in those teams nowadays but it does not stop the same age old anthems being chanted out at a bewildered collection of Dutch, Italian, Croatian, Ukrainian, German and Scandinavian players.
Leaving the dear green place on the M8 back in the direction of Edinburgh we pass by the massive Eurocentral terminal which is the transportation hub and the home of the Chungwa Electronics factory. Further along this same road we now come to appreciate why this stretch is known as "Silicon Glen" with the proliferation of micro-electronics factories and plants such as NEC, Sun, Motorola, Seagate, Cadence, DPI and Elonex being in evidence. Lucrative inward investment packages have done much to attract these overseas firms and their highly skilled jobs to Scotland. Additionally, Sky Digital Television has a major call centre at Livingston.
In fact, call centres have sprung up all over Scotland principally in the banking and IT sectors and that industry is one the principal employers in the country today.
From the M8 we travel on first the City and then East Lothian Bypass and discover that we are heading back to Berwickshire from whence we came.
These pages have tried to give a flavour, even if only in part, of most regions of Scotland. We hope that you have enjoyed your journey and will visit some of the places mentioned - and many of the ones unavoidably missed - in person - soon.
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